Monday, 27 January 2014

Insights on Ethiopia

Sari Schwartz

What an incredible trip! By now everyone has returned safely back home and has had a chance to unwind. Looking back on our experiences, my mind fills with wonderful memories, including the tremendous progress we witnessed to expand options and access to family planning for women and their families, the pride we saw at health centers and hospitals when healthcare providers described their work to deliver high quality care, and the emotions we felt when we saw the challenges faced by so many living in parts of rural Amhara.

Each of you experienced Ethiopia in your own way—through your own lens. It was a transformative journey, and one which will not be easily forgotten. From the quiet reflections in Debre Berhan, to the laughter in Lalibela, Ethiopia has made a lasting impression on me. I thank each of you for the insight, passion, and energy that you brought along the way.

What’s next? We keep going. Just as we learned from the tenth grade students at Baso High School, there is still so much work to be done. Share what you’ve seen and keep the conversation alive. From challenge comes the potential for great change, and I’m confident that together we can help women and their families in Ethiopia lead healthy lives.
All the best,

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

From Access to Options: The Power of Informed Decisions

Sari Schwartz

There is so much to share from our visit to Amhara, and simply not enough space to include it all in this post! Here are just a few highlights from our visit.

Baso High School Baso High School
We have just returned from an overnight visit to Amhara—an expansive rural area of Ethiopia—where we saw firsthand the incredible work being done to help couples living in remote areas make informed decisions about family planning. At the EngenderHealth-supported Keyit Health Clinic, a dedicated team of healthcare providers work together with health extension workers and community volunteers to put the power of family planning into the hands of women and men, while delivering high quality care. And their hard work is paying off. Each year, more and more couples visit the health center to access long acting methods of family planning. And each year more people are empowered to decide the size of their families and the spacing of their births. At a community gathering held just a short walk from the clinic, I was moved by how a group of more than 30 local women gathered together to discuss openly the benefits of family planning and the importance of sharing this information with the community at large, so that everyone can make informed decisions.

From progress to potential—on our way back from Amhara today we saw that there is still so much need, and so much work to be done. This afternoon we visited Baso High School, a secondary school comprised of more than 1,000 students—60% of whom are female. Most come from predominantly rural areas. We talked with students from the Gender and Health club, a program supported by EngenderHealth.

One of the students from the club told us that she began studying at Baso in the sixth grade. We listened to her describe how she escaped a forced early marriage, cut ties with her family, and now works after school to be able to afford housing. Now in the tenth grade, she hopes to one day attend University. The immense strength it took for this young woman to choose a path that would lead to a better life is undeniable. As we move on to the next part of our trip, we will take her conviction with us. Today this brave young woman taught us that with knowledge and access to options, a better life is possible.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Coffee Ceremony

Sari Schwartz

Coffee Ceremony
My name is Jessica Guff and I’m a retired television producer, formerly with ABC News. I came to Ethiopia at the invitation of EngenderHealth Board member Rosemary Ellis, a former colleague and dear friend. I had been to Africa before, but never to Ethiopia. I had always wanted to see the first Christian country, home of the Ark of the Covenant, and a proud people and ancient culture. I am so glad to have traveled here with EngenderHealth and to have the opportunity to see firsthand the wonderful work they do to improve the lives and health of Ethiopia’s women and children. Here are some of my reflections from the past few days.

We have visited two clinics thus far, both government-run and both supported by EngenderHealth’s wonderful healthcare training. During our visits, we have literally heard babies born and have seen the newborns shortly after, but the thing that most impressed me was the graciousness of the staff at these clinics. Though they deal with life and death on a daily basis, they took time out of their busy days to brew and serve coffee to us, their visitors. Coffee is one of Ethiopia’s better known exports and to drink it here is quite sublime. The Coffee Ceremony itself is a ritual passed down from grandmothers to mothers and daughters.

According to EngenderHealth Ethiopia’s Country Representative, Dr. Yetnayet Asfaw, all Ethiopian girls in every community learn how to prepare the coffee at home and offer this ceremony whenever they wish to welcome a guest. At the two health clinics we visited, a traditionally dressed woman roasted the coffee beans over hot coals, wafting their delicious scent our way by fanning the smoke in our direction. She heated a clay pot over coals and ground coffee brewed within it. Once the water and coffee mixture boils, she waits until the grounds settle at the bottom of the pot before pouring it gently into individual coffee cups. Another woman had already spooned sugar into each cup and then served the cups on delicate saucers arranged on a tray.

We happily sipped our coffee and were then offered another treat: freshly popped popcorn! Frankly, the combination of coffee and popcorn had never occurred to me, but the popcorn, which is slightly sweet and deliciously salty at the same time—like Kettle Corn—is the perfect accompaniment to black, sweet freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee.

As the popcorn was passed to each guest to grab a handful from a tray, I asked Dr. Yet if corn was indigenous to Ethiopia. While corn is grown in the lowland areas of the country, it is not the popping kind. The kernels are imported and are a special treat, served to welcome guests. At an EngenderHealth supported health clinic in the countryside near Debre Berhan, the coffee was accompanied by a serving of large hunks of freshly made wheat bread, roasted over coal fires. The delicious coffee and warm welcome we received at each clinic are a testament to the graciousness and cordiality of the Ethiopian people, who seem truly grateful for the aid the United States government and people have given through organizations like USAID and NGOs like EngenderHealth.

The obvious pride that Dr. Yet takes in the success of her staff, and their work with the local healthcare workers in the clinics is well deserved. They are improving the lives of Ethiopia’s women and children one by one. Their work is not easy, but it is both satisfying and much needed. It was a pleasure to witness the good that they have done in this beautiful country, and to be welcomed by these wonderfully gracious, kind, and generous people in their traditional and charming way.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A Beacon of Hope in Ethiopia

Sari Schwartz

Today was filled with a number of unforgettable moments. Here are just a few of the day’s highlights. Tomorrow we set out for Amhara, where we will not have wifi service. Stay tuned for upcoming posts soon!
All the best,

Good evening from Addis! We kicked off our day with a visit to the EngenderHealth Ethiopia office. While there, we met the EngenderHealth Ethiopia team who inspired us with their stories of their commitment, passion, and dedication to the women and their families that they serve in more than 250 health facilities, spanning 174 districts throughout Ethiopia. Their achievements are astounding.

pamIn the last five years alone, EngenderHealth Ethiopia has transformed the lives of 3.5 million women through programs like the Mobile Services Outreach Project, which brings health services to women in remote areas, and ABRI (Access to Better Reproductive Health Initiative). The team shared with us that in Amharic, the word ABRI means source of light. And just like the program’s name, the EngenderHealth team members in Ethiopia are truly a beacon of hope and source of light to the women and families they serve.

Our jam packed day also included an in-depth meeting with H.E. Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Health. Meeting with the Minister of Health was a wonderful opportunity to gain insight on how Ethiopia prioritizes maternal health and child survival by investing in the people of Ethiopia through initiatives like the Community Health Extension Workers Program. Since the program’s introduction ten years ago, the government of Ethiopia has trained and deployed 38,000 salaried female health extension workers—including two workers in every village—to help advance maternal and child health and expand access to family planning. In the last two years, the Ethiopian government has also built a health development army of three million volunteers, who work alongside the community health extension workers, to educate communities and help people lead healthier lives.

The progress Ethiopia has made with regard to reproductive health is truly remarkable, and we saw evidence of this progress during this afternoon’s visit to two EngenderHealth-supported health centers run in partnership with the Ethiopian government. Each facility placed a premium on integrated care.
ministry of healthThis means that when a woman brings her newborn baby to the health center to get vaccinated, she also has the opportunity to receive other services, including family planning counseling, HIV screening, HIV treatment, and postnatal care. What’s more—at each center, the services provided to women and their families are free of charge. Now that’s what I call a beacon of hope and an infinite ray of light.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Greetings from Addis Ababa!

Sari Schwartz

Timket by Candle Light timket 3

We have just kicked off our trip to Ethiopia and I look forward to sharing with you our experiences as they unfold. Below please find an overview of our first day in Addis.
Warm regards,

Teanaste’lle’n (hello) from Addis Ababa! I am so excited to be joined by an incredible group of women who have traveled from all over the globe to experience our Global Insights Tour of Ethiopia. On our first night together as a group, we had the privilege of taking part in the Timket Festival, also known as the Ethiopian Feast of the Epiphany. As the largest festival of Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia, Timket is a three-day long celebration involving the carrying of tabots (replicas of the Arc of the Covenant) from various churches to a location where the next day’s celebration will take place.

Last night we attended a special candle-lit ceremony led by priests who prayed throughout the night among a crowd of thousands. As we walked through a vast open field, the glow of the candles lit up the faces of the women, men and children who were peacefully ushering in the holiday. The gentle and rhythmic hymns sung by the priests were answered in unison by the community, echoing their collective wishes for a good year filled with rain, free of conflict, and full of peace and prosperity.

Today the celebration continued, and this time the glow of the candle light gave way to sunshine and pops of bright colors appeared amidst a sea of white ceremonial attire worn by the Timket participants. We walked together down a crowded street as the velvet wrapped tabots were carried out underneath the shade of colorful ceremonial umbrellas. The music was loud and boisterous, and we could hear drums beating and bells ringing. As we walked together, we saw happiness in the faces of the people participating—and in their faces we saw a reflection of ourselves. We all want a year free of conflict, full of peace, prosperity, joy, and song. And just like that our vastly different worlds intersected and our Ethiopian journey began.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Rural Households in Ethiopia Become Agents of Social Transformation

Sari Schwartz

Meet Ethiopia’s model families, spreading health innovations from vaccination and sanitation to family planning throughout their communities.



Monday, 13 January 2014

Family Planning: Investing in Innovation


Why are certain contraceptive practices more prevalent in low income countries? Read about how new innovations for contraceptives are being designed for the developing world as a result of ongoing public/private partnerships, and a reaffirmed commitment to increase access to family planning.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Leveraging the Power of the Purse for Good


Our EngenderHealth Global Insight Tours: Ethiopia is right around the corner, and I’m really looking forward to taking this incredible journey with you. Following the holiday season, I thought I would share my latest Huffington Post blog on the importance of giving.

Warm regards,

Leveraging the Power of the Purse for Good

In this season of shopping, spending, and celebrating, I find myself trying to assess my holiday priorities in the midst of all the madness. I am the grandmother to eight grandchildren, four of whom are teenagers. Just like many kids in the U.S., their lives are filled with the festivity and fun surrounding the holiday season, including dreaming about the many presents that await them. But when my husband and I began to think about our grandchildren’s wish lists this year, we decided to think outside of the shiny wrapped gift box and do something different. Read more here.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Countdown to Ethiopia


Did you know that of the more than 84 million people in Ethiopia, the majority live in rural areas and have limited access to reproductive health care? Every day, Ethiopia makes significant strides toward expanding access to family planning services and advancing maternal health. In fact, the contraceptive prevalence rate in Ethiopia has doubled in the last five years, from 15% in 2005 to 29% in 2011. Yet, as Africa’s second most populous country, the need for increased access to reproductive health and family planning services in Ethiopia is immense. For many women in Ethiopia, a confluence of factors can impact access to family planning, including illiteracy, early childbearing, gender-based disparities, and religious and traditional influences. That’s why EngenderHealth’s Global Insights Tour begins with Ethiopia.

Expanding options for women in Ethiopia has a global impact—a multiplier effect— on the lives of women and families around the globe. Ensuring reproductive rights is integral to a sustainable future. When a woman is able to have the number of children she wants, not the number her circumstances dictate, transformative events happen: She goes further in school, she is more likely to invest money back into her family, and her family is more likely to prosper.

We are all interconnected, and it’s our collective responsibility to help empower each other. In this exciting time where information-sharing technology is literally at our fingertips, we have the ability to instantly relay what we read, see, and experience firsthand. In doing so, we can engage communities—both near and far—to create change, and in turn, to unlock the potential in us all. Through the connections we will make on our trip, we can share the stories of the women we meet. And when we do, we can speak with one voice. Together, the possibilities are limitless.

As the time draws near for our upcoming trip, I would like to take a moment to welcome you to this exciting interactive platform. I hope that you will use this space not only as a helpful resource tool, but also as an opportunity to engage in dialogue and discussion about our shared experience. I look forward to hearing your thoughts as we begin to embark on an incredible journey together.

© 2013 EngenderHealth, all rights reserved.
Photo credits: M. Tuschman/EngenderHealth; B. Porter/EngenderHealth; R.K. Ramaswamy/EngenderHealth; Staff/EngenderHealth.